The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA), enacted in 2000, created the U-visa to provide support to undocumented individuals who are victims of serious or violent crimes, thereby encouraging these individuals to report the crime and to cooperate with government officials to prosecute the criminal activity.
Filing a U-visa is a complex and difficult process that requires the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney. Aretz & Chisholm Immigration will meet with you to discuss your experience and determine whether you are eligible for a U-visa. We will then represent you in the preparation and submission of the U-visa application and present your case to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.
Who Is Eligible To Apply for a U-Visa?
In order to be eligible, an applicant must show that he or she:
– Has suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” as the result of one of the following forms of criminal activity conducted in the U.S.:
rape; torture; trafficking; incest; domestic violence; sexual assault; abusive sexual contact; prostitution; sexual exploitation; female genital mutilation; being held hostage; peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade; kidnapping; abduction; unlawful criminal restraint; false imprisonment; blackmail; extortion; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes.
– Possesses information concerning the criminal activity;
– Can provide a certification that states the applicant is being, has been, or is likely to be helpful to the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity (this certification must come from a federal, state, or local law enforcement official, prosecutor, judge, or authority that is investigating the criminal activity.); and
– That the criminal activity violated U.S. law or occurred in the United States (including Indian country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the United States.
It is not relevant whether the perpetrator of the crime has lawful immigration status in the U.S. Nor does it matter whether the person is actually convicted of the crime.
What Are the Benefits of the U-Visa?
Approved U-visa petitioners will be granted temporary legal status and permission to work. After three years, you will be eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status (green card). U-visa holders can remain in the U.S. for a period up to four years with a possible extension in certain cases.
If the Victim Was a Minor, Does He Or She Have to Cooperate with Law Enforcement?
In cases where the petitioner is under the age of 16 or is incapacitated or incompetent, the participation requirement can be fulfilled by the parent, guardian, or next friend* submitting the necessary evidence on behalf of the petitioner. This person must provide evidence of his or her qualifying relationship to the petitioner and evidence establishing the age, incapacity or incompetence of the petitioner.
*A next friend is a person who appears to act for the benefit of a non-immigrant who is under the age of 16, or who is incapacitated or incompetent.
Should a Victim of Domestic Violence Apply for VAWA Or for a U-Visa?
It depends. If an immigrant is an abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR), he or she is eligible to self-petition to gain lawful status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Victims of domestic violence who are not married to the abuser, or who have been abused by spouses who are not U.S. citizens or LPRs, are not eligible to self-petition under VAWA, but may seek status under the U-visa. It is important to discuss these options with an immigration attorney before seeking any benefits from United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Does the Immigrant Need to Be in the U.S. to Apply?
The petitioner is not required to be physically present in the U.S. to qualify for a U-visa. An individual can apply from abroad as long as the criminal activity has violated the laws of the U.S. or has occurred in U.S. territories. Possible circumstances in which you may be eligible to apply for a U-visa include:
– if you were a victim of a qualifying crime that occurred within the U.S. but you had to leave the U.S.; or
– if you are a minor, and a U.S. citizen sexually abused you outside the U.S.
Can Family Members Benefit From the U-Visa?
If an applicant is under the age of 21, they may include a spouse, children, parents, and/or siblings under the age of 18 on the application. If the applicant is over the age of 21, they may include spouses and/or children.
Contact Aretz & Chisholm Immigration today to schedule a consultation regarding your immigration case.